Jim Siergey: Summer In The Park With Sly

June 27th, 2015

It was the summer of 1970.  Peace and love was in the air.  Hatred of hippies and police brutality was in the streets. But in the park, Grant Park to be precise, a free concert was to take place.

And not just a free concert, a free concert performed by Sly and the Family Stone.

They were an integrated, multi-gender group from San Francisco that played funk, soul and psychedelic music.

They had a string of hit songs such as Everyday People, an anti-prejudice anthem that contained the still popular line “different strokes for different folks.

They had Stand!, Dance to the Music, Sing a Simple Song and the tune that skyrocketed them to everlasting fame at the Woodstock music festival the previous summer, I Want to Take You Higher.

They were cool with a capital K and all of us with-it cats and kittens were heading downtown to Grant Park to groove on what they’d be laying down.

It was a hot, sunny day in Chicago as Cindy and I approached the entrance to Grant Park when we heard her name called out.

It was the voice of Tim, a friend of Cindy’s and her brother’s—the same guy, along with her bro, that we never met up with at Woodstock due to the size of the crowd and the non-existence of cell phones.

(This was the first time I ever met Tim.  The next time I was to meet him was with a bunch of people sitting inside a parachute on a living room floor. A year or two later we became close friends and remain so to this very day.)

On this day, however, he and a few other cohorts were loitering outside Grant Park waiting for Cindy’s brother to show up.  Cindy and I said our hellos, shared a few syllables and continued on into the park.

We weren’t among the throng for very long before we could sense the “bad vibes.” One could just feel that something bad was going to go down. It was visceral.

slystone“If you want me to stay, I’ll be around today…”

 

Besides the required amount of hippies, there was also a gang presence.  Rough-looking guys walking around holding empty cigarette papers in their hands, “asking”, “Who can fill this up for me?”

Occasionally, we’d see a bottle or can or some other missile fly above the ever-growing crowd.  No sense of peace and love was pervading the air that was becoming even more hot and humid .  The fact that Sly and the Family Stone was very, very late didn’t help matters.  Plus, if I remember correctly, there was no other musical act playing which could have helped placate the anxious and edgy horde.

Heeding our “bad vibrations,” Cindy and I decided to hit the fringe.  We crossed the street and looked onto Grant Park from there.  Our timing was nothing short of perfect.

Very soon after we attained our perch of safety, we saw clouds of tear gas going off in the park followed by the familiar site of blue-shirted and helmeted police with raised batons moving in. This is when we decided to vacate the premises, as nonchalantly as we could..

We learned later that Cindy’s brother, fresh off of work and clad in shirt and tie, arrived in the park just as all hell broke loose.  Besides getting teargassed, a “pig” (as the police were not-so-affectionately called back then) grabbed him by his tie and clubbed him about the head and shoulders.

There were no more concerts in Grant Park for quite some time after that.

By the way, Sly never did show up but in 1971 he put out an album entitled There’s a Riot Goin’ On.

 

Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was The Door

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Chris Lamberti: Happiness Is A Warm Run

June 21st, 2015

Let me start with a hypothetical. Can the White Sox score fewer runs?

 An answer grounded in some kind of material reality is “It’d be hard.”

But I’m more of an existentialist. So I ask, what is a run?

A run for the White Sox is a thing that brings illumination to every corner of my soul.

With runs, I feel joy. Without runs, emptiness.

Consider the parallels. When a car is empty it runs no more.

An empty dishwasher makes no sense to run.

Or I took a laxative before my procedure. Then I had the runs until my innards were empty.

Can the White Sox score fewer runs?

I might rephrase the question: Can I be more empty?

It’d be hard.

 

cyndilauper

When it comes to runs, Cyndi Lauper would be an improvement over…

 

The emptiness caused by few runs has brought great imbalance to the universe.

The weather has been crappy. I blame Adam Eaton.

I have a summer cold. I blame Melky Cabrera.

My wife left me. I blame Robin Ventura.

My wife didn’t actually leave me and now she’s pissed at me for writing that. I blame Rick Hahn.

Great poets throughout history have been preoccupied with runs.

Bruce Springsteen was born to run.

John Lennon wrote: Happiness is a warm run. I think.

Cyndi Lauper penned: Girls just want to have runs. But don’t quote me on that.

I search the universe for answers. But few runs is a great unknown…

Adam LaRoche, why so few runs?

“I don’t know.”

Ugh.

 

adamlarocheAdam LaRoche…

 

Alexei Ramirez, why no runs?

“No habla.”

Sorry. Alexei Ramirez por qué no runs?

“No sé.”

Shit.

Chris Sale, why no runs?

“I don’t know. But I am awesome.”

Agreed.

But without runs all seems lost. Is there hope?

Can I bring myself to believe that the White Sox will score runs, make me whole again, and restore balance to the universe?

It’d be hard.

 

Editor’s Note: Chris’ last post for The Third City was Only One Man Can Save the White Sox

 

 

 

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Matt Farmer: Great Lobbyist, Lousy Uncle

June 21st, 2015

If your dad drops dead when you’re a kid, Father’s Day will be a bitch for years. Especially if there’s a guy like my Uncle Marty Farmer lurking in your family tree.

My dad, Tom Farmer, died in 1978. Just 39 years old, he had a heart attack at work and likely drew his last breath in a soulless office suite at the Merchandise Mart on an otherwise lovely September afternoon.

I was 14 years old at the time. The youngest of my four little brothers turned seven the day after we buried my dad.

From that point on, I wanted no part of Father’s Day. I began treating the day as one more summer Sunday on which I could make some quick cash working as a caddie.

But even that coping mechanism presented problems. Try being a teenage boy who spends his first fatherless Father’s Day carrying golf bags for some Irish Catholic version of Mitt and Ann Romney while they play an afternoon round of golf with two of their lovely kids. Not exactly a pick-me-up.

In the years immediately following my dad’s death, a number of good men helped my mom look out for my little brothers and me — two wonderful grandfathers, some rock-solid uncles, a number of caring teachers, and several family friends — and for their time and attention I’ll always be grateful.

And I know that if I drop dead tomorrow, my brothers will be there to look out for my kids. Why, then, was the one guy who, at least on paper, should have played some kind of role in our lives nowhere to be found, even though he lived only twenty minutes from us?

I’m told my dad’s little brother — his only brother — came to my dad’s wake. But if my Uncle Marty Farmer was there, he damn sure didn’t say hello to me. Or give me a hug. Or tell me he was sorry that my dad was dead.

And to this day I can’t tell you why he was unable or unwilling to do such basic things. As best I can tell, the guy simply decided at some point in his mid-thirties to cut ties with his two siblings and their families.

Don’t get the wrong idea. My uncle wasn’t some Ted Kaczynski-like character who skipped out on his brother and sister and their families to live in the woods while penning his manifesto.

He was a button-down guy who lived with his own family in a big house in Oak Park, and he worked as a lobbyist for Continental Bank.

But my uncle never found five minutes to throw a baseball with my brothers and me after our dad died. And the guy couldn’t be bothered to tell his nephews a single story about what their dad was like when he was a kid.

And Father’s Day after Father’s Day, when I’d come home late in the day from caddying to spend some time swapping stories and playing catch with my grandfathers, I’d always ask myself why my dad’s only brother wasn’t around for any of this.

I never came up with a good answer.

By the summer of 1986, I’d finished college and was living with a friend outside of Washington, D.C. I also knew that my Uncle Marty had gone to work for a large Florida-based bank and was splitting his time between Florida and D.C, where he had a house near the Watergate complex.

I decided to give it one more try. I wrote him a humorous, heartfelt letter to let him know I was in town, and I invited him to join me for lunch or dinner. I included all my local contact information and hand-delivered the letter to his building.

I left Washington a few months later, never having heard back from him.

At that point I gave up on the idea of having any kind of relationship with my uncle. He became a cryptic footnote to a bad chapter of my life.

In 1988 I had a long talk with the man who raised both my dad and my uncle. My grandpa and I were close, but it took me some time to muster up the courage to ask him about my uncle because I knew it would be a difficult conversation for him.

And I was right. It was heartbreaking to hear the pain in my grandpa’s voice when he told me, in so many words, that he had no real idea why his own son wanted nothing to do with my brothers and me.

I became a father in December 1991, and in June 1992 I was once again able to enjoy Father’s Day on my own terms.

It’s rare that I think about my Uncle Marty anymore, but just yesterday, when my 13-year-old daughter started asking me a bunch of questions about my extended family, I mentioned his name. She was stunned.

“I didn’t know your dad had a brother.”

I then told her the story of my Uncle Marty.

“That’s awful. The guy sounds like a complete jerk. You should write him a letter telling him what a horrible uncle he’s been.”

I wouldn’t waste a first-class stamp on the guy at this stage of the game. Besides, a blog post can be just as cathartic as a letter.

 

Editor’s Note: Matt‘s last post for The Third City was Guitar Lawyer

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Grabowski: Omar Cantu

June 19th, 2015

“Eager Plastics, this is Jeff,” I answered the phone at work one day in 2003.

“Do you have any high temperature, clear, two-part silicones that I could use to make a hollow box?” the caller asked.

He continued by telling me that he was opening a new restaurant based on molecular gastronomy, and wanted to pre-heat this box in the oven to 600F and cook raw protein tableside.

I was used to walking people through complex projects, but for a novice, this would not be easy.

He came into our shop and introduced himself as Omar Cantu.

From the very first meeting, he stood out as a creative genius. He had vision, contagious happiness, natural confidence, and an impressive vocabulary. His ideas were limitless.

I sold him what he needed. A couple weeks later he came back with a flawless prototype and bought more.

omarcantu

Homaro “Omar” Cantu, 1976-2015…

 

When I left the plastics industry and moved onto industrial gas, I put him in touch with the right people at my new company to supply liquid nitrogen to his newly opened restaurant, Moto.

During my first meal there, I ate baby crabs cooked in his clear polymer box tableside. Another course included a hollow sphere of beet juice frozen in place using liquid nitrogen and a balloon. It was an unforgettable experience and a top meal of my life.

Although we were not close friends, we stayed in touch.

I kept up with his successes over the years: Iron Chef battles, Future Food TV series, and his efforts to use the miracle berry to make sour foods taste sweet without sugar. I was excited when he announced plans to open a new brew-pub within walking distance of our house.

In 2011, he called me out of the blue to offer a job finding commercial partners to license food ideas coming out of a new lab he was going to set up. Ideas such as his process of turning an orange into juice without peeling, so that you could poke a straw in and drink it. I declined since I had just started a new job.

When I first heard the news that he had committed suicide, I felt horrified at the emptiness it would leave in the lives of his family and friends. 

It was a cold ending to such a warm life.

Omar Cantu was a rare kindred spirit with whom I envisioned lifelong sporadic collaborations. I will miss following his accomplishments, and I won’t be able to write a more detailed profile on him as I had planned.

 

Editor’s Note: Grabowski‘s last post for The Third City was The Fermi Method… An archive to all of his stories can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/jeffgrabowskichicago?fref=ts

 

 

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Jim Siergey: The Door

June 17th, 2015

The door is closed. That’s good. I could use some alone time.

I wonder, though, if it is locked? I wouldn’t want people just coming in here willy-nilly any old time they wanted.

I should check and see if it’s locked. As soon as I have the energy to get up and cross the room I will do that. But not right now. Right now I’ll just have to hope against hope that it is locked.

Yes, that’s what I will have to do, hope against hope.

Sometimes movement of any kind is too much to even consider. Like today. The air pressure in this room is heavy. It’s like the low notes of a piano being depressed over and over again. Repetitive but very slowly, kind of like the score for Stanley Kubrick’s final film “Eyes Wide Shut”.

I liked that particular score. Many people would argue with that opinion. I won’t argue back. At most, I only disagree to a degree. I know I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. I’m no Clarence Darrow.

The door. It’s still closed. This room. It is empty. That’s good. No distractions. I can concentrate on me. Get to the core of the matter. Down to the soul. Down to the final filament. Let’s see what really makes this old boy tick.

doorsNot to be confused with…

 

This chair. It’s not all that comfortable but it will do. It has cushions. That’s a plus. A plush plus. There is even a matching hassock. Or is it an ottoman? Class distinctions of a foot stool.

It’s rather ragged and weather-beaten. It’s seen better days but so have I. I have everything I need to relax but, oh, that door. The state of that door bothers me. The ceaseless gnawing of uncertainty.

I could check it. I just have to swing my legs around and get my feet off of this footstool. Put them firmly on the floor, bend my knees, put the palms of my hands down flat on the arms of the chair and leverage my bulk up from the seat. It might take a few tries but I’d get myself upright. Then I’d have to balance myself and shuffle across the room.

How many shuffles would that be? It’d be quite a few, too many to estimate. As I said, the room is empty so there’s no place to stop and rest. No lamppost to lean against. No tree to shade myself. No park bench to park my carcass. Just open floor. A journey, that’s what it would be. I have no provisions so I’d have to make the best of it.

But what if, once I reach my destination, I find that that door is locked? That’d be a fine how-do-you-do. What a lot of effort just to put my mind at rest. But, what about my body? It would need to be put at rest too. To do so, I’d have to return the way I came. There’s no taxi to hail. There’s no bus. There’s not even a fucking gondola. The whole ordeal would’ve been nothing more than a round trip ticket to Palookaville, a Sisyphean trek on a Moebius Strip.

Taking all this into consideration, I think it’d be best if I remain here. Here in this chair, hoping against hope. Something will happen or it won’t.

I can wait.

 

Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was The Midwest Lamp Parts Company

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Jim Siergey: The Midwest Lamp Parts Company

June 12th, 2015

I had an adventure that turned into what was appearing to be a misadventure but ended up happily.  I don’t know about ever after but, happily for now.

Plus, I learned yet another lesson about Chicago streets.

Some weeks back when the tornadoes whirled through western Illinois, leveling one town and causing damage in others, here in the city we were limited to gusty winds but they were puh-ritty gusty.

The following day, I was picking up branch debris from my back yard when I discovered a pile of broken glass on the table on my deck. I looked up and saw that the glass globe covering one of the deck lights had been blown clean out of its screws whereupon it crashed to bits upon the table below.

I checked its mate located on the other side of the back door and it had weathered the storm, standing in place as vigilant as one of George Washington’s soldiers at Valley Forge. I figured I could use this survivor to find a replacement globe, either just like it or two new ones with the same cap size.

Off I went to what I believed to be the two obvious outlets for such an item–Home Depot and Menards. I was disappointed to learn that neither of them carried globe replacements.   So, that was two quick strikes.

Then I remembered Crest Lighting over on Sheffield and Roscoe. It’s where the electricians go for their supplies and I had picked up odd-sized light replacements there in the past so off I motored. I arrived and marched in with both globe in hand and hope in heart but was immediately handed Strike Three.

jimsiergeylightbulb

When the bulb goes on, we see things we never saw before…

 

However, the helpful fellow behind the desk gave me renewed hope.

He looked on his computer and wrote the following info down on a yellow Post-It : Midwest Lamp Parts, 3534 N. Spaulding. He told me that they might carry such items and also gave me a directional hint.

“Now, don’t go past the Dunkin’ Donuts.”

I quickly replied, “I never go past a Dunkin’ Donuts.”

We smiled in deep-fried camaraderie and I departed.

I had a general idea of where Spaulding was located so I headed down Addison, brimming with confidence, which, in my case, is always a mistake.

While en route, I remembered that our friend Blanca lived on Spaulding and it was one way going north.  I decided to turn left and head south on Kedzie for a block to take a westward-heading side street so I could be facing the correct direction when I came to Spaulding.  Alas, one cannot make a westbound turn on Kedzie until one hits Belmont.

Okay, I thought to myself, it’s only a few blocks out of my way.

I drove and drove down Belmont and never saw a street sign for Spaulding.  Once I came to Pulaski I knew I had gone too far west but I continued on to Cicero Avenue nonetheless.

“Maybe Blanca doesn’t live on Spaulding”, I thought to myself as my fleeting feeling of confidence began to erode in an avalanche of second-guessing. From Cicero, I turned east on Irving Park Road, planning to go home and check my Chicago Street Directory (Damn! Why don’t I keep one in the car? An “old school” GPS system) but I would keep an eye out for Spaulding on the way.

YES! There it was, right where I thought it would be. Then I remembered that Blanca’s street, which was Spaulding, ended in a T-bone at Belmont.  The Kennedy Expressway cuts off many a street right around there and Spaulding was one of them. I hung a sharp right onto my long-sought thoroughfare but it only continued for a few blocks before it got cut off by Elston Avenue, one of those pesky slanted streets.

I did not panic. I persevered, veered onto Elston and turned right onto Addison and there, right by the Dunkin’ Donuts was the reappearance of Spaulding! I quickly turned left and my heart which was bursting with excitement quickly popped like a pin-pricked balloon.

At the end of the street, barely half a block long, were high piles of dirt along with assorted heavy machinery.  It looked like a construction yard of some kind.  But, I looked to the lone building on my right and there on the door in gold leaf lettering were the words “Midwest Lamp Parts”.   Not only that, but a parking place to boot!

I entered into a dusty and musty old foyer, empty but for a locked door.  An unseen hand pressed a buzzer and I entered.   Inside were several hallways. I sensed motion to the right so, with globe in hand, I entered. A young woman looked at me and said “Glass? Turn around and take first hallway to the right.” I obeyed.

I entered an archaic dusty magical-looking place. Piles of large cardboard boxes teetered atop one another. A chain of long tables filled with various glass objects stood before me. No one was in sight.  I shouted “Is anyone here?” and my voice echoed through the cavernous warehouse.  A woman in a dress poked her head out from one of the aisles and said something.  I walked toward her.

I showed her my globe and began explaining my quest when she quickly turned and began speaking Polish to an unseen figure.  He spoke Polish back to her.  She spoke some more Polish back to him. Then he appeared and, in English, asked “Can I help you?” He listened to my little synopsis, looked at my globe and said “Follow me.”

Follow him I did. This warehouse was huge.   I’ve worked in some warehouses back in my warehouse-working days and they were big but compared to this place, they were broom closets. All around me were aisles filled with large cardboard boxes atop one another as well as various unboxed fixtures and glass ornamental objects. It exuded a complete lack of order or reason. I loved it.

We walked for quite a while in this labyrinthine layout but this guy seemed to know exactly where to look. He made a turn, walked over and picked up a small cardboard container and withdrew from it an exact match to my globe!

Twelve bucks lighter later, I was on my back deck screwing in the globes and thinking to myself, “Now, we gotta have a party.”

 

Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Hair, There and Everywhere

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Jim Siergey: Hair, There And Everywhere

June 2nd, 2015

I turned on the TV and the movie “Alice’s Restaurant” was on. This 1969 movie was based on Arlo Guthrie’s album side-long story/song by the same name.

The scene that was playing was long-haired Arlo being hassled in a pizza parlor by some local yokels. The hassling expands to the point where Arlo gets beaten up and tossed through the pizza parlor window. The cops show up and toss Arlo into the squad car whereupon they take him to the station under arrest.

Watching this reminded me of those days of yore and just how much people hated hippies.   I mean, they really, really hated them.

It didn’t matter how you acted, just having long hair, heck, even sideburns was enough to elicit sneers and curses and looks of utter disgust from the general populace. The most popular and over-used query was “Are you a boy or a girl?” That line never failed to crack up the asker.

I was a young man (almost) and was sporting sideburns and longish hair when I was accosted on the street by an older woman who could not hold back her contempt as she sputtered the worst slur she could conceive at me,  “You—you—you—BEATLE!”

Yes, kids, the Fab Four were once looked on with disdain.

It wasn’t just adults that hated hippies.   Little kids got their insults in too. Another time I was walking down the street with some friends and a young tyke pedaled his tricycle toward us.   He looked up at me and hollered out “Hippie Duck!” as he pedaled past.

Yep, ‘Hippie Duck’ was what he called me.   And I have witnesses.

One of my favorite stories is from my friend, Leonard. He had longish hair and was also very thin and unthreatening-looking. As he strolled down the street one day he began to get hassled (a much-used ‘60s word) by a carful of greasers (this is not an ethnic slur, it was what the tough guys were called back then—the duck-tailed, pompadoured, white Tshirt-wearin’ with a pack of smokes rolled up in one of the sleeves types). They were hanging out the car windows, mocking him, calling him names, threatening him, etc. as their vehicle inched along the street until it plowed into the back of the car in front of them that was stopped at the stop sign the driver of the greasemobile was too busy to notice.

Karma can be both a bitch and a bitch goddess, man.

arloguthriealiceYou can get anything you want…

 

Historically, the antics of youth have always been frowned upon.   The raccoon coat-wearing, Tin Lizzy-driving dudes and bathtub gin-swilling flappers of the 1920s, the jitterbugging hepcats of the ‘30s, the bobby-soxers of the ‘40s, the rock’n’rollers of the ‘50s all caused the elders to fret.

But, hippies were despised to the depths of despisement. We were treated as if we were mutant spawns of Satan.   Man, we were almost treated as badly as if we were black!

Almost.

Black Power was on the rise then too.   We long-haired, anti-war freaks and the rising up angry black population were shaking up societal complacency and the complacent were none too happy about it.

I once happened to be part of a perfect illustration of this social bifurcation momentarily becoming one with the universe.

I was riding in a bus down Laramie Avenue in Cicero, Illinois—a town renown for its racial intolerance. I was seated in the back and a couple of rows ahead of me sat an African-American man.   Besides the driver, we were the only two people on the bus.   I remember thinking at the time that the two most hated types that this town could hate were both here riding in the back of the bus.

It was fuckin’ symbolic, man.

Well, the 1970s came around and society at large began adopting everything that was hated about the hippies.   Among other things, they turned against the Vietnam “War” (in quotes because it was never declared), accepted the concept of civil rights (begrudgingly) and began wearing their hair long.   TV news reporters, politicians, tradesmen et al. let their sideburns grow and allowed their ears and necks to be tickled by bushy un-barbered follicles of plenty.  What was once a visual statement of non-conformity had become just another fashion trend.

So, “Alice’s Restaurant” brought all this racing back to me, like the inhalation of a snapped amyl nitrate capsule on a moonlit night with the stars dancing a Purple Haze tarantella as a mini-dressed chick with flowers in her hair twirled barefoot in the grass.   Off in the distance, I could hear the faint and familiar call of a fellow human being, “Get a haircut, you faggot!”

 

Editor’s Note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was Minneapolis Airport

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